US says Europe needs 'working definition' of anti-Semitism

In 2013 the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights dropped a definition of anti-Semitism from its website, eliciting harsh criticism from Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.

March 17, 2016 04:34
3 minute read.
People pay tribute to the victims of a hostage taking outside the Hyper Cacher kosher marketr

People pay tribute to the victims of a hostage taking outside the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket near Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The US encouraged European governments to adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism while condemning the conflation of Diaspora Jewry with the State of Israel, during an international forum in Berlin this week.

Speaking at the third Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism in Berlin on Tuesday, State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Ira Forman welcomed the European Commission’s recent move to appoint its first coordinator on combating anti-Semitism and called upon individual member states to follow the continental body’s example.

Explaining that anti-Semitism is “evolving into new, contemporary forms of hatred, racism, and political, social, and cultural discrimination against Jews,” Forman lamented that “one virulent aspect is... conflating Jewish communities with Israel, using criticism of Israel as a pretext for anti-Semitism.”

Citing several occasions in which apparently anti-Semitic incidents were downplayed as being merely anti-Israel, including the scrawling of swastikas in Sweden and the firebombing of a synagogue in Germany, Forman said that it is vital to “define anti-Semitism clearly to more effectively combat it.”

While the issue in indeed complex, Forman stated, there is a line between criticism of Israeli policy and questioning the state’s right to exist. As such, he continued, the United States “encourage[ s] European governments to adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism, ideally one which would include a section on how anti-Semitism relates to Israel, to improve the safety and well-being of Jewish communities in Europe.”

In 2013 the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights dropped a definition of anti-Semitism from its website, eliciting harsh criticism from Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.

At the time the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted a spokeswoman for the organization as saying that she was “not aware of any official definition,” prompting Ioannis N. Dimitrakopoulos, the head of the FRA’s Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department, to tell The Jerusalem Post that his organization’s critics misunderstood the move, saying the definition was “basically a guide to collectors of primary data.”

“We don’t collect incidents and we don’t receive complaints,” he said, explaining that “what we do is we apply whatever definition is applied by the primary data collectors.

“We don’t have a mandate to develop [and] impose, in any way, definitions. We cannot provide a measure based on which people will assess how one Jewish organization records incidents in one country versus a Jewish organization in another country versus a police authority in a third country versus a civil society organization in a fourth country,” he said.

Prior to this week’s conference Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called for just such a definition, stating that it is unacceptable that the “perpetrators of anti-Semitism are attempting to define it and its boundaries.”

Forman’s call for a continental definition similar to that of the US State Department was warmly received, with Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, affirming its support for the American envoy and agreeing that “anti-Israel bigotry tends to morph into anti-Semitic hate.”

“In today’s world, especially in Europe, the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist has long been obliterated,” agreed Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“Refusal to acknowledge and deal with this reality means Europeans are not fully committed to combat the cancer of Jew hatred. Left to continue to metastasize, it will eventually make Jewish life untenable in many European countries.”

The European Commission’s anti-Semitism commissioner Katharina von Schnurbein is extremely motivated but “without comprehensive and universally agreed definition of anti-Semitism, including anti-Zionism her work is severely hampered,” Cooper said. “In addition, many of the EU members have no internal mechanism to report anti-Semitic incidents.”

While praising Forman, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, went even further, calling on the EU to define both anti-Semitism and radical Islam.

Meanwhile, in remarks to conference attendees this week, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert agreed that “there is a link” between newly arrived migrants and anti-Semitism, though one cannot assume that all refugees share these views.

“They were probably told that Israel was still the villain of the world,” he said. Their integration will involve “accepting Israel’s right to exist.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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